Every time I do a show, I feel like it’s a new beginning because every time I’m adding, tweaking, changing, discovering, expanding, challenging.
For my April 22nd Symphony Tacoma show “Earth Songs from the Harp” (INFO & TIX HERE!) I developed four pieces. By ‘developed’ I mean that I adapted or edited them so that they could shine in a new way.
The adaptations all had different challenges for me. Some meant hiring a copyist to change the music, some meant notating things I’d previously just improvised, some meant having to re-learn or ‘translate’ pieces that were originally for one kind of harp onto the new harp I play.
Here’s what I did:
The Nightingale – tuning in a new key
One of the pieces, “The Nightingale” needed to be transposed to a new key because I made a decision recently to retune my own instrument, and tune it in a more standard key. Playing solo, this was no big deal – but transposing a piece for full symphony meant changing everything. There was no time to do this alone – and it’s not my genius-work anyway. So I called, the genius: Ray Tarantolla, a professional copyist who specializes in orchestral music.
I’ve been working with Ray since my debut with the Boston Pops over 20 years ago (remind me to tell you that harrowing story some time). So I turned to him again, to edit this 20-year old score and make sure every note each player plays matches the overview the conductor uses – and then shift the whole thing down one half step so it’s playable with my new tuning.
On a spiritual/emotional level, that one little switch both grounds the piece and elevates it. That tiny half-step also has huge implications in making the piece accessible to other players, because it’s now playable by any harpist instead of the very few in the world who tune the way I used to tune my harp (and that’s fodder for a future blogpost).
The Phoenix – rebirth
In one of those moments of magical revelation, I realized that the new way I’m tuning my harp also opened up access to a piece I wrote years ago, “The Phoenix.” This is one of the pieces I love most, but it was unplayable in the tuning I’d been using – and I’d assumed it was simply unplayable on the electric lever harp.
But it would be perfect for this concert, about our relationship to the earth, so I pulled it out, worked through it on my instrument in the new tuning, and to my amazement, it’s playable!! Suddenly something beautiful and inaccessible to me is playable again!
So, after years on the shelf, I’m debuting “The Phoenix” here in Tacoma, with my new instrument. Reinventing the way I play that piece on the new harp meant weeks of practice so this performance is an exciting moment for me, personally, to reconnect with a piece that has meaning for me way beyond the notes on the page.
Califypso – Adding 9 Harps to the Mix
For Califypso, a piece that features the families in the orchestra – and shows the audience how this huge group of musicians all fits together – I wanted to adapt the piece to be a feature for Harp Ensemble so the “Tacoma Harp-Breakers” could join us on stage (take a look at the Harp-Breakers).
That meant notating the funky strumming techniques in a way that other harpists could actually read and learn it – but it also meant creating a video to walk them through that notation and how to actually play it. If you want to see what that looks like you can take a peek at the video here: https://youtu.be/WGaiTU4g1-I
Baroque Flamenco – my Students gave me the solution!
Finally, the first piece I wrote for orchestra and harp – which is now performed by harpists all over the world – was unplayable by me on my new instrument because “Baroque Flamenco” features percussive “soundboard slapping” techniques – and my new electric harp has no soundboard.
Ironically, I finally solved that problem when I created an online class to teach harpists how to play the piece, and harpists around the world who now play the “DHC” harp (the harp I invented and developed with CAMAC Harps) demanded to know how to do it on their instruments. So, by solving the problem for them, I was finally able to solve it for myself! I tested it out in a chamber ensemble program last year – and this show with Symphony Tacoma is the first time I’ll ever perform it with full orchestra on my new harp.
It’s not just individual pieces that change and evolve. CLICK HERE to find out What it Takes to Get on Stage and what other types of developments and adaptations keep me feeling like it’s new beginning every time! And also CLICK HERE to see How I Prepare for Each Show with a Checklist!
If you’re in the Tacoma / Seattle area I hope to see you at the show – click HERE for show INFO & TIX!